15 reasons why kids struggle in sport
Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen
All sporty kids will go through times where they struggle. The trick for parents and coaches is to know why it happens and what to do about it.
The Changing the Game Project says that 70 percent of kids will quit organised sport by their 13th birthday. And for those who stay, it’s not all roses and sunshine. It’s hard work that comes with plenty of struggles.
And it’s these struggles that cause kids to quit. Parents and coaches need to expect stages where they’ll lose focus or motivation. But if you don’t accommodate these times or help kids to work through their struggles, they’ll end up in a position where the only way out is to quit.
“Grey skies are just clouds passing over.”
All kids face challenges and form slumps when playing sport, so it's up to parents and coaches to help them through it so they don't walk way before they're ready.

15 struggles that can cause sporty kids to quit

Sport is a great teacher for life. Learning to be resilient, to cope with challenges and to persevere. But it’s not always a kind teacher.

Here’s 15 things that can rob kids of their love of sport:

  1. It’s not fun anymore. When sport gets too serious, kids can feel like their practice sessions are all hard work. There needs to be a balanced approach. Children’s sport should be about fun, friendship and some fanfare – celebrating wins, steps forward and being part of the team.
  1. Too many expectations. Having a record running through your head of “I must” isn’t good for kids long-term. Or any of us. Kids need to be clear who they’re making happy with their sport. If they’re carrying the expectations of their parents, a coach or even a club, they’re going to crumble.
  1. Trouble with their coach. All relationships go through ups and downs. But kids spend a lot of time with a coach, so if they’re not getting on, it will flow into their game. Like with any other relationship, sometimes you have to step in and get everyone listening again.
  1. Not feeling challenged. A lot of sport is about repetition. Improving skills through practice to move them from a thoughtful process to an unconscious one. But in all this repetition, boredom can creep in. Coaches need to find creative ways to practice the same things without making it look that way.
  1. Puberty. It’s no coincidence that the age when most kids walk away from sport crosses over with puberty. Their bodies are going through a huge change. Their emotions are all over the place. They need encouragement, a chance to talk about their feelings and respect.
  1. Developing a negative mindset. The self-talk of teenagers can be their undoing. Concentrating on mistakes as failures undermines their ability to learn from them. Sporty kids need to develop a growth mindset if they’re going to keep moving forward.
  1. Too much focus on winning. Sport is about more than the game. It’s about being part of a team, building skills and improving performance. When the focus is only on winning, it’s easy to see kids as more of a machine than a person.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – Heywood Broun

  1. Trying to get it perfect. Most people who do well at sport have a perfectionist streak. It’s what drives them to keep getting better. But like most character traits, we need to keep in check. Perfectionism can turn into a fear of failure if kids don’t see errors as part of the learning process.
  1. FOMO. Fear of missing out. The teenage years are when kids start to flex their social muscles. Going out with friends, joining clubs at school and trying new sports. If a child is already dedicated to one sport, they can feel like they’re missing out. There’s no easy fix to this one. They have to decide if they’re going to follow the crowd or keep swimming upstream.
  1. Underlying injuries. As sporty kids get older, they build up layers of lingering injuries that need managing. Overuse injuries, ligament damage and old fractures can make the work of learning new skills even harder.
  1. Loss of friends. Everyone quits a sport at some point. Or moves to another club. Companions are what make the hard work bearable, so expect a dip in mood when their friends move on.
  1. Doing too much. Life for most sporty kids is busy. They have training to fit around school, and then games on the weekend as well. Somewhere in there they have to make time to do homework, eat and sleep. Kids will struggle if the workload is too big and they feel overwhelmed. You have to set limits at some point or they’ll burn out all together.
  1. Questioning their dream. Things that kids want to do when they’re little can become less important when they get older. As the reality of what the dream requires sinks in, some kids will decide the price is too high. Sporty kids need have clear goals, and make sure that their coach, parents and other supporters are all on the same page.
  1. Other priorities. Most people can’t sustain focus on one thing for years. They will have interests that come and go. Sporty kids will too, but that can lead to a plateau.
  1. Feeling stuck. When lots of these challenges come together, kids can find themselves stuck in a trap. They may feel like they don’t want to play anymore, but not feel they can walk away either. Their confidence unravels, along with their happiness. Parents and coaches have to create ways for kids to walk away gracefully.

Sporty kids are like any other kids. They deserve to have a childhood and have a choice about what their involvement with sport looks like. They need the adults in their life to let sport be their thing and not heap expectations onto those young shoulders. And you have to be willing to take it one day at a time. If you race too far ahead, you might just trample them on the way.

What are your thoughts on the hurdles sporty kids face now and then? Have you got some ideas that work? I’d love you to share them below.

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